Through the first two games of the 2019 season, Tennessee’s offense hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. And it’s affected their confidence.
The Vols’ offense only put up 30 points against a Georgia State defense that was abysmal in 2018, and the last seven points of that game came with only two seconds left on the clock. Against BYU last weekend, UT’s offense scored one touchdown in regulation and had to settle for field goal after field goal multiple times.
Not only that, but UT has turned the ball over four times in the first two games, which is tied for the most giveaways in the SEC through the first two weeks of the season.
According to senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway, the Vols’ confidence on the offensive side of the ball has gotten a little low because of the way they’ve started this year. But that confidence is starting to pick up now that they’ve had a chance to watch more film and see some improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
“It’s a little low right now,” Callaway said this week when asked about the offense’s confidence. “It’s been a little low, but over the past week, we’ve watched film, we went back and watched the corrections, and we seen we did a lot of good, but also we need to do a lot of improvements. The confidence level is going up right now.
“The coaches push us up, the leaders, the team, the players, everybody is pushing each other up. We’re not pointing fingers, saying it’s one person’s fault or one side of the ball’s fault. We’re all taking ownership of that.”
Callaway said Tennessee’s offense has been “our own worst enemy” to start the season thanks to “dumb penalties” and turnovers. All of those things, along with poor execution on third down and in the red zone, have caused UT’s offense to stall out more often than not to start the year.
Against Georgia State, three Vol turnovers — along with poor defensive play — derailed UT’s chances of getting a victory. Against BYU, Tennessee’s inability to score touchdowns went a long way into eventually losing that game in double overtime.
Through two games, Tennessee has scored seven times in eight trips to the red zone. Only four of those scores have been touchdowns, however, with the other three resulting in field goals. Tennessee’s 50 percent touchdown percentage on red zone trips is 10th out of 14 teams in the SEC, and their three red zone field goals are tied for the most in the SEC. Only Ole Miss (40 percent) has a higher percentage of red zone scoring attributed to field goals than the Vols (37.5 percent).
On third down, UT hasn’t been horrible, converting 44.8 percent of their 29 third down attempts. But in short-yardage situations on third down, Tennessee has been far below average, only picking up eight of their 15 third down attempts when facing four or fewer yards.
Callaway himself hasn’t gotten off to the start he was hoping for this season. Through two games, the senior receiver only has seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. Jauan Jennings has been the go-to receiver for quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, and Callaway is the only other receiver on the team to catch a touchdown besides Jennings.
Despite all those struggles, Callaway says nobody on offense is pointing fingers or trying to blame others for the issues.
“We’re all here for one thing: We’re all trying to win,” Callaway explained. “So no matter who gets the ball, no matter how many times one person gets the ball, as long as we’re doing what we can to win or doing what we can to put ourselves in the best situation to win, then I don’t think that’s a problem.”
A lot of the struggles on offense have resulted from redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano making poor decisions. Against Georgia State, Guarantano had two costly turnovers and was inconsistent despite eclipsing the 300-yard passing mark for only the second time in his career. When the Vols faced BYU, Guarantano had a horrible second half, throwing a bad interception and failing to make on-time throws multiple times.
But Callaway says nobody on the offense is blaming the Vols’ signal caller. In fact, everyone from the coaches on down are showing him support.
“Jarrett is a self-starter. He does a lot stuff on his own to get himself going,” Callaway said. “We’re just here for his support. So whatever we need to do, whether it’s a pat on the butt, telling him to pick his head up, we’re his family and his friends. He also has his immediately and his friends, so he has them and he has us.
“We’re always there for his support. We don’t backlash him. We’re just there to help him.”
Tennessee’s offense will have a chance to pick up some much-needed confidence against UT-Chattanooga on Saturday. The Mocs come into Saturday’s match-up having allowed 431.5 yards per game and 25.5 points per game in the first two games of the season against Eastern Illinois and Jacksonville State.
Kick-off on Saturday is at noon Eastern in Neyland Stadium.